Tuesday, October 25, 2005


"She has had her first sexual encounter and made her first suicide attempt; she takes drugs and stays away from home for days at a time. She is 13 years old. You might think this teenager is the product of an abusive family background and a turbulent upbringing, but she is in fact a much-loved child of well-educated and considerate parents who have always given her everything. And that is her problem. She is suffering from pampered child syndrome.

But help is at hand. In The Pampered Child Syndrome published on Thursday, Maggie Mamen, a clinical psychologist from Canada, argues that well-intentioned, permissive philosophies have produced a generation of children who believe they are entitled to the same rights as adults but who are not ready to accept grown-up responsibilities.

Rather than blame the parents, however, Dr Mamen has devised a ten-point plan aimed at helping them to regain control. Her starting point and inspiration is not the psychiatrist’s couch but the boardroom table. “Parents need to think of themselves as the management team. They are the managers and the children are not. “The children are not the ones sitting around the boardroom table and that needs to be made clear. Children will learn to be managers one day, but for now they are the trainees,” Dr Mamen told The Times. Once this has been established, parents need to set out their policies. “You might start out with something like, ‘In this family, education is important and we have to respect each other’. Children like to know where they stand and setting out your policy makes it clear,” she said.

Dr Mamen uses the language of the management consultant not because she want to strip all emotion out of family life, but because the business analogy helps to inject some logic and neutrality into what are usually highly charged situations. “When you are working in an emotional situation it helps to use pragmatic words. I find that parents really like the use of the words ‘control’ and ‘manage’, especially the dads.” Dr Mamen also draws inspiration from the world of politics, encouraging parents to adopt the “Trudeau approach”. When asked in 1970 just how far he would be willing to go in eroding civil liberties with his anti-terror policies, the Canadian Prime Minister replied, “Just watch me!” “Even though we know that we cannot make anybody do anything they really don’t want to do, we should never under-estimate our own abilities, or at least our children’s belief in our own abilities,” Dr Mamen said. The trick is not to blink first.

A major theme underlying Dr Mamen’s book is that parents need to believe that they have the right to act without their children’s consent. “Children need parents to be willing to act unilaterally so that they feel safe and secure under their protection,” she said. If parents do not do this, she said, the consequence could be far more serious than the odd spoilt-brat temper tantrum but could lead to the kind of behaviour described at the opening of this piece. Or worse. “If we fail to recognise the behaviours of overly pampered children and to identify the contributing factors, this may sometimes lead to over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders and the prescription of inappropriate and potentially dangerous treatments,” she said.

As to whether children suffering from really serious pampering can ever fully “recover”, Dr Mamet, was cautious. “You can get rid of spoilt brat behaviour most of the time. But sometimes the effects still show in adulthood. You see these people in the workplace; they feel put out to have to show up and do things that they might not really want to do,” she said.


A healthy lifestyle begins at home

And governments are actually DISCOURAGING healthy lifestyles

Federal [Australian] Health Minister Tony Abbott is right. Banning junk food advertising on children's television programs as a way of combating childhood obesity just won't work. Parents can merely switch off the TV, something which many parents seem to have forgotten, as they seem to have forgotten they are responsible for their children's diets and lifestyles. It is parents who pack children's school lunch boxes, and they don't have to load them with chips and chocolates.

According to the NSW Health Department there are 1.5 million overweight children in Australia. These figures suggest a cultural problem, not curable simply by censoring advertising. Indeed, unless we try rationing and a compulsory physical-jerks regime along North Korean lines, the Government's capacity to trim fat is relatively limited.

The problem of childhood obesity is worth keeping in perspective. Like other temporarily fashionable apocalypses (such as Paul Ehrlich's predictions that, rather than expanding like balloons, we were all going to starve to death by about 1980), the obesity epidemic does not really herald the end of the world. Although one doctor once told me our national health is collapsing, our life expectancies continue to rise. My own observations at the beach are that people look much the same as ever, but perhaps beach-goers have become atypical and I'll accept the figures that a lot of us and a lot of our children are too fat. Perhaps the fatties are not visible in the waves at Cottesloe because they're all at home hunched over PlayStations.

Anyway, the problem would be fixed if more parents used common sense and exercised the kind of ordinary responsibility for their children that was previously thought to be a normal part of being human. Some people don't credit parents with the common sense, responsibility or even free will to do this. Sydney Morning Herald columnist Adele Horin claims parents don't have "the energy, the education, the time or the means" and need "more help from government to counter the corporate culture" because it "takes energy to say no". Parents of previous generations found the energy somewhere.

Government and legislation, often turned to instinctively as the cure for child obesity, have actually been the cause of much of it, discouraging all sorts of even mild physical activity. Laws making helmets compulsory for cyclists, even on places such as Western Australia's Rottnest Island, which has few motor vehicles, have discouraged bicycling. Surveys show compulsory helmet legislation reduces cycling by about 30 per cent (while hospital admissions for bicycle accidents have actually increased). Britain leads the way here, but Australia is not far behind, and the British experience is a warning. Participation in sports and outdoor activities of all kinds is increasingly controlled and licensed.

Children at one British primary school were prohibited from making daisy chains in case they picked up germs. Another school stopped children making hanging flower baskets for the same reason. Playground pursuits such as hand stands, tag, yo-yos, tree climbing, skipping, ball games and even bicycle riding have been banned by various schools and local authorities. Cub scouts in Windsor need consent forms signed by their parents to play conkers. At one school, children who wish to throw snowballs at other children must get their targets' permission first. The Government has approved selling off hundreds of school playing fields.

No wonder there has been an epidemic of childhood obesity in Britain a few years ahead of Australia's. In October, 2001, Paul Trayhurn, the new professor of obesity biology at Liverpool University, said British people had lost the fight to control their weight and the country was facing a public health disaster from obesity. A year later the number of obese children was estimated at one in five.

Obviously fear of litigation and insurance costs are key factors. I know of at least two Australian naval cadet units that have closed down because of insurance costs, and that is probably the tip of an iceberg. Legislation might help here by making some young people's activities which involve slight elements of risk realistically insurable (by capping liability, for example).

Political correctness, which prohibits fat children from being criticised in case they lose self-esteem, has also probably not helped. British minister "Mo" Mowlam attacked the Duke of Edinburgh for telling an obese child at a space display that he would need to lose weight to become an astronaut. The solution has to be a whole-culture one which comes back to greater parental responsibility. Governments don't make culture and shouldn't try. Only parents can turn off PlayStations, computer games and TV and stop children eating junk food, and only parents can set up a culture of healthy and balanced activity for children.



Returning to Detroit from an academic conference, my head was still buzzing with what I had learned from the feminists. All of them were doing work in feminist deconstruction, and joyfully working out its implications. Following their lead, I came to see that the organized world is a text that expresses male domination. Furthermore, I understood that the male principle is domination. If that text could be deconstructed, domination itself could be overcome and the female principle -- warm, nurturant, and life-giving -- would be able to emerge.

The shuttle bus took me to long-term parking and I found my little car, waiting for me where I had left it. Without even thinking, I opened the door and began to get in. And that was when the thought hit me.

Getting into the car ... why obviously the car was a female and I, expressing a masculinity which I now understood to permeate me to my core, was about to about to enter her and use her for my own purposes in just the same way that men have used women for thousands of years.

I stepped back from her, astonished by the power of my insight. For I saw that there was a larger dimension involved than my simply entering this car at this time. Indeed, it became clear enough tome in this moment, the whole pattern of male domination over the female was present here. And this was so perhaps least of all with regard to my entering the car and forcing her to do my will. More important, I came to realize, was the fact that the car itself, while clearly female, had been interpenetrated by male desires; her beautiful feminine essence warped and degraded by the domination of the phallus.

At that point I decided that I had to deconstruct the car; not for her sake alone, nor even for the sake of all the females of which she was a part, but for myself and all males as well. Crippled and driven by our own phallic assumptions, we had been deprived of the beauty that could exist if the female principle were allowed its sway. In a small way, I saw, I could start here. I could remove the influence of male domination from this beautiful car and leave her to express her female essence in a way that she, and only she, would determine.

I began with the item that first struck my attention: the driveshaft. Driveshaft, get it? This was obviously a penis. In the trunk was a hacksaw. I took it out and began to cut through. It was hard work, and it was hot, but as I gave up my doubts and hesitancies, it was as if I had discovered a new source of energy, for the work appeared to become lighter. And, indeed, as the hacksaw bit through the last of the metal, and as the driveshaft fell away from the car, I too felt lightened, relived of a weighty burden that I had carried all my life. Now, it was plain to me, I had passed the point of no-return. I was committed by my own actions. I could not turn back......

Read the rest here

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